Brain scans show rebellious teens react to parents

The MRIs of teens who reported engaging in the most risky behaviors—sex, drug use, or reckless driving, for instance—were more responsive to watching videos of other teens than videos of their parents. (Credit: cubmundos/Flickr)

Brain scans show that teenage rebellion is a sign of teens separating from parents in their transition to adulthood.

The researchers believe their study is the first of its kind to record images of teenage brains as they responded to videos of peers and, separately, videos of their parents.

“The more they were activating a central part of the brain to the unfamiliar peer versus to their parents, the more risky the behavior was that they were reporting,” says Darby Saxbe, assistant professor of psychology at USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences.

For the study, researchers tracked the brain activity of 22 teens, ages 16 to 18, through Magnetic Resonance Imaging. The psychologists found that the MRIs of teens who reported engaging in the most risky behaviors—sex, drug use, or reckless driving, for instance—were more responsive to watching videos of other teens than videos of their parents.

Researchers observed that when the rebellious teens saw the videos, a central region of their brains responded more to their peers than to their parents. In fact, the MRIs revealed a spike in activity in the precuneus—a portion of the brain that controls awareness about the thoughts and behaviors of others.

Although studies have shown that teens tend to hang out more with their peers than their parents as they reach adulthood, Saxbe says that parents shouldn’t let their teens separate entirely. She says that the results seem to indicate that parents should be sure to maintain a strong bond with their children, even when they become adolescents.

Based on this study, the potential lesson for teens and their families is “Keep your friends close but your parents close, too,” Saxbe says.

The study appears this week in Social Neuroscience.

Source: USC